On September 12, 1897, 21 soldiers of the 36th Sikh regiment of the British army had fought to the last man against nearly 10,000 Afghan tribesmen. It is one of the fiercest last-stands executed in battle. In the September 1897, when over 10,000 Afghan of the Orakzai and Afridi tribe attacked Saragarhi, North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) (modern day Pakistan), the defending Sikh regiment, under the leadership of Havildar Ishar Singh, knew their fate had already been decided– held their ground.
The entire regiment was posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest bravery award given to Indians at the time. It was also the only time when an entire unit received the highest gallantry award for the same battle.
It occurred during the period of the 19th century known as the Great Game, the name given to the heightened tensions between Britain and Russia as they battled over Afghanistan and other territories in central Asia. Saragarhi served as a communication relay post between Fort Lockart and Fort Gulistan, using heliography (mode of communication that primarily used mirrors and sunlight to convey messages in the 19th and 20th century). The Saragarhi outpost was crucial to communication between the two British forts and breaking the frontier at Saragarhi would mean adverse consequences for the British army.
Saragarhi is now officially commemorated in the UK too. During, the 120th anniversary, the annual commemoration event was held at the National Memorial Arboretum, home of the UK’s inaugural First World War Sikh Memorial, to remember and honour all those who fought and died on the forgotten frontier.